Tag Archives: Curiosity

Puzzling Rocks Found On Mars

Three and a half billion years ago Mars was a completely different place. Water was flowing, the atmosphere was thicker, and maybe some basic forms of life had evolved. Curiositys latest findings provide more evidence for flowing water, but create new questions about the Red Planet.

The rocks analyzed by Curiosity in the last seven months have much higher concentrations of silica than any other terrain visited by the rover since its arrival in 2012. Silica, which is a chemical made of silicon and oxygen, makes up 90 percent of the composition of some of those rocks.

“These high-silica compositions are a puzzle. You can boost the concentration of silica either by leaching away other ingredients while leaving the silica behind, or by bringing in silica from somewhere else,” said Albert Yen, a Curiosity science team member, in a statement. “Either of those processes involve water. If we can determine which happened, we’ll learn more about other conditions in those ancient wet environments.”

If the originof the silica is sedimentary, water must have flowed abundantly on Mars. The other alternative is that it formed through leaching,atype of rock weathering due to acidic water. While many minerals in rocks would dissolve, silica would not be affected by the acidic water.NASAs rover Spirit previously discovered traces of sulfuric and hydrochloric acidity, which could favour the leaching hypothesis,but the team is still considering both scenarios until more evidence is found.

Another puzzling discovery is the presence of tridymite, a very rare silica (at least on Earth) formed by volcanoes. Researchers are curious about a potential magmatic past on Mars, but they are also testing if there are other ways for this mineral to form.

Curiosity is currently climbing Mount Sharp, a feature within Gale crater where it landed 40 months ago. Mount Sharp formed because surrounded terraineroded away, so as Curiosity climbs higher and higher, it encounters younger and younger terrain. Thiswill give us an indication of how Mars went from awet to arid environment.

“What we’re seeing on Mount Sharp is dramatically different from what we saw in the first two years of the mission,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

“There’s so much variability within relatively short distances. The silica is one indicator of how the chemistry changed. It’s such a multifaceted and curious discovery, we’re going to take a while figuring it out.”

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/puzzling-rocks-found-mars

Latest Mars Photo Shows Curiosity’s Tracks From Space

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NASA’s newest Mars rover Curiosity is taking its first tentative drives across the Martian surface and leaving tracks that have been spotted all the way from space in a spectacular photo snapped by an orbiting spacecraft.

The newview of Curiosity’s tracks from space was captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and released today. It shows the rover as a bright, boxy vehicle at the end of two tracks that create a single zig-zag pattern in the Martian surface.

Another photo from the MRO spacecraft spotted the car-size Curiosity rover’s parachute and protective backshell, which were jettisoned by the rover during its Aug. 5 landing. A previous photo by MRO taken on Curiosity’s actual landing day captured an image of theMars rover hanging from its parachute.

Scientists used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on the MRO spacecraft to take the new photos, which have created a buzz among the Curiosity rover’s science team.

“The HiRISE camera on MRO continues to take amazing photographs of Mars, and of us on Mars,” said Mike Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a briefing today.

The photo of Curiosity also includes the rover’s landing spot and shows the scorch marks left behind by the rockets on the sky crane that lowered the rover to the Martian surface.

“It’s a great image of where we stand relative to the touchdown point now,” Watkins said.

This isn’t the first time the MRO spacecraft has captured views of rovers on Mars. The orbiter repeatedly observed NASA’s smaller Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity as they explored the Martian surface following their own landings in January 2004. The Spirit rover’s mission was declared over last year, but Opportunity continues to rover across the Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.

The Mars rover Curiosity took its first drive on Mars on Aug. 22 and completed its longest drive, a 100-foot trek, on Sept. 4. So far, the rover has driven a total of 358 feet on Mars, but is actually just 69 feet away from its landing site due to the turns the rover has performed along the way.

Mission scientists have also tested the rover’s mast-mounted cameras and laser, which is used to study the composition of Martian rocks, and are preparing a weeklong set of tests to calibrate Curiosity’s instrument-tipped robotic arm.

NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is designed to spend the next two years exploring the vast Gale Crater on Mars to determine if the area could have once supported microbial life. Mission scientists also plan to send the rover up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising up from the center of the crater.

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/06/nasa-photo-curiosity-tracks/

Super-Realistic Simulator Lands NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars

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As NASA’s Curiosity rover gets closer to its early Monday morning landing on Mars, the agency has released a spectacular simulator that will take you through every detail of the complicated landing procedure.

If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft, officially called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), will land on the Red Planet at 1:30 A.M. Eastern Time on August 5.

The remarkable web-based interactive animation lets you see precisely where in space the 1-ton, $2.5 billion Mars rover is located at this moment, or using Preview Mode, you can jump forward and backward in time, speeding up events so you can see each aspect of the flight and landing. That includes the last step, which lowers the unusually heavy rover using an incredible “sky crane.”

During the “seven minutes of terror,” NASA‘s way of explaining the Rube-Goldbergian process of landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, it won’t be possible to watch the Mars landing live because of the 14-minute communications delay between Mars and Earth. But an interactive animation of the landing will be viewable in real time in this simulator as it happens early Monday morning.

In the meantime, we’ve been having lots of fun playing with this simulator, going forward and backward in time, dragging the mouse to change camera angles, and even looking back at a tiny Earth, way off in the distance.

Try it yourself — and pay close attention to those “seven minutes of terror,” the most complicated landing sequence ever attempted. While you’re at it, keep your fingers crossed at 1:30 A.M. Eastern time on Monday morning, because key NASA officials are saying there’s a lot riding on this landing. Doug McQuiston, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program calls it “the most significant event in the history of planetary exploration.”

Lead scientist for the mission, John Grotzinger, told Space.com, “I think if we are fatal on landing, that will have a very negative influence.” He added, “It’s going to force people to look back and ask if it’s possible to achieve these very complex, more demanding missions from a technological perspective. How can you talk about sample-return if you can’t do MSL [Mars Science Laboratory] first?”

Good luck, NASA. Do you think the spacecraft will land on Mars successfully?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/04/simulator-mars-curiosity-rover/

Curiosity Rover Makes First Foursquare Check-in on Mars

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Curiosity is NASA’s most digitally savvy rover yet. She tweets regularly, posts her pictures and now she is the first Foursquare user to ever check in on Mars.

Curiosity’s first check-in was today at the Gale Crater, where she made her first landing on the night of Aug. 5. Located on the equator of Mars, the Gale Crater is home to the 3-mile high Mount Sharp and is Curiosity’s primary target as it holds billions of years of Martian history.

Curiosity will continue to check in and share updates throughout her 23-month expedition.

“Like any great trip, you want to share with your friends back home, so that is why the rover is sharing check-ins and tips from her amazing trip,” says Stephanie L. Smith, who is part of the three-woman team that runs Curiosity’s social media.

Since Curiosity is the first to post from the Red Planet, she will regularly give travel tips for future space tourists.

“Mars is cold, dry and rocky. Extra moisturizer and sturdy shoes would be a good idea, plus oxygen for those of you who breathe,” she posted along with a snapshot of the desert-like landscape.

Curiosity’s next check-in will be from Rocknest, another point within the Gale Crater where the rover will be parked for the next two weeks to conduct various experiments.

“We’ll start getting to more specific locations within the crater,” says Veronica McGregor, social media manager at NASA. “We may not do daily check-ins for each drive, but we will be able to do check-ins and tips for locations after we name them.”

Curiosity’s Foursquare tips will be a mix of science and humor. “We’re having fun with these tips,” says NASA social media specialist Courtney O’Connor. “We have to consider things like atmosphere, temperature and things we don’t normally think about on Earth. We have to put ourselves into her point of view. You have to get into character.”

So far, the rover has checked in two times today. She only has one more check-in until she becomes mayor of Gale Crater — an honor that, McGregor says, is well-deserved.

“If anyone should be mayor, it’s that rover.”

Bonus: Mars Curiosity’s First Tracks

Curiosity Rover in Good Health on Martian Surface

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NASA’s huge Curiosity rover appears to have survived its harrowing Mars landing Sunday night in fine form, and it’s now gearing up for its two-year mission on the Red Planet’s surface.

News that the 1-ton Curiosity rover touched down safely inside Mars’ Gale Crater came in at 10:32 p.m. PDT Sunday (1:32 a.m. EDT and 0532 Monday), though the six-wheeled robot actually landed about 14 minutes earlier. (That’s how long it takes signals to travel from the Red Planet to Earth.)

The rover seems to be in good health after being lowered to the red dirt by a rocket-powered sky crane — a maneuver that had never been attempted before on another planet. And Curiosity has made the mental switch from entry, descent and landing mode to surface mode seamlessly, team members announced today.

“She is in surface nominal mode,” Curiosity mission manager Mike Watkins, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters here at JPL today. “The surface mission of Curiosity has now begun.”

The rover is reporting no serious anomalies or glitches, Watkins added. Initial checks of the car-size vehicle’s 10 science instruments look good, though fully vetting their condition will take weeks or months.

Like Curiosity itself, the rover’s handlers are now transitioning to surface mode. The biggest activity on the docket for today — its first Martian day, or Sol 1 — is deploying Curiosity’s high-gain antenna. This operation should begin at around 6 p.m. PDT (9 p.m. EDT; 0100 GMT Tuesday), officials said.

“This allows us to talk directly to the Earth with enough gain that it can actually send data to us, and be more easily talked to by us,” Watkins said.

The antenna will take some of the communications pressure off NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, which have been relaying word from the rover back to Earth. Confirmation of last night’s successful touchdown, in fact, came via the venerable Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001.

Curiosity will also take a five-hour reading today with its Radiation Assessment Detector instrument, or RAD, which gathered data for much of the rover’s eight-month space cruise.

“That’s not a checkout; that’s 100% data collection,” said Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, a professor at Caltech in Pasadena.

On Sol 2, Curiosity will deploy its head-like mast and take some panoramic photos of its surroundings with its navigation cameras, Watkins said. The rover has already sent home a handful of pictures snapped by its hazard-avoidance cameras.

All of these activities are geared toward making sure Curiosity is fully functional and ready to rove. The robot’s main mission is to determine if the Gale area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life. It will study the rocks and soil of Gale and Mount Sharp — the mysterious 3-mile-high mountain rising from the crater’s center — for at least the next two Earth years.

So while landing was a huge moment and a major accomplishment, Curiosity’s quest has only just begun.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface,” Grotzinger said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/06/curiosity-rover-in-good-health/

Curiosity Rover to Broadcast Will.i.am Song Live on Mars

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Whether or not you’re a fan of will.i.am‘s songs, his music will soon be out-of-this-world.

NASA‘s Curiosity rover is set to broadcast a new song by the Black Eyed Peas singer live from the surface of Mars on Tuesday, NASA announced. It will take place at 1 p.m. PT (4 p.m. ET) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Called “Reach for the Stars,” the song is about will.i.am’s passion for science, technology and space exploration, NASA said. Check out the video above for more.

In addition, members of the team that successfully landed Curiosity earlier this month will describe the rover’s mission at the event. They will also explain the technology behind the song’s interplanetary transmission.

Will.i.am announced via Twitter that “Reach for the Stars” will be the first song from Earth ever to be broadcast from another planet.

He then encouraged other celebrity tweeters, including Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, to “spread the word.”

The event will be streamed on NASA’s website, and broadcast on NASA TV.

Will.i.am, through his i.am.angel Foundation has also partnered with digital-learning company Discovery Education to develop a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics initiative featuring NASA resources, such as Curiosity.

If you could choose a song to be broadcast on Mars, what would it be? Tell us in the comments below.

Video courtesy of i.am.angel Foundation

Image courtesy of Flickr, evarinaldiphotography

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/curiosity-william-song/

Curiosity Rover’s Next Mars Adventure: Mount Sharp

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NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to enter a new phase of her life on Mars. After spending six months parked in the same area, the rover will soon embark on the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp.

Since landing on the Red Planet in August, Curiosity has explored a “candy store” of terrain and even confirmed Mars was once suitable for life. So, why leave an area that has proven so rich in resources? Because Curiosity’s biggest discovery may still be waiting.

While NASA scientists admit there’s an urge to “keep driving,” there’s a bigger element of exploration at hand. For humans, Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Rising 3.4 miles above the floor of the Gale Crater, it’s taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. However, more than that, Mount Sharp contains the answer key to the planet’s puzzling history. It is the mission’s main science destination.

“It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable on Wednesday.

Although NASA scientists have their sights set on Mount Sharp, they won’t hesitate to stop along the way. In fact, Curiosity will take the trip at such a slow pace that scientists can’t even estimate when she will reach the base of Mount Sharp.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

As of this week, Curiosity’s route to Mount Sharp is still unknown, but it will likely fall within the area outlined in red.

Scientists will use an orbiting satellite to determine the most diverse route for Curiosity. However, there are two main points of interest along the way (pictured below).

“Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary,” Crisp said. “A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”


Scientists are particularly interested in Point Lake, located in the upper half of this image. A closer inspection may yield information about whether it is a volcanic or sedimentary deposit.

Curiosity has already completed her main science goals of scooping soil for analyzation and drilling into a rock. We can expect to see similar types of experiments along the way to Mount Sharp, provided the terrain proves promising enough for the effort.

The rover has a laser and telescope instrument in her head, called ChemCam. ChemCam, a feature Curiosity has already used more than 40,000 times, uses its laser to zap rocks from a distance of about 7 meters. The telescope then analyzes the “excited” gas or plasma that is produced.

Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and ChemCam will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach. However, we will have to wait until Curiosity completes her trek to the mountain’s base to get any idea of the samples she’ll be taking.

“Drill targets are selected as the rover comes across them, so there are no specific locations in mind right now for Mount Sharp,” NASA Social Media Manager Veronica McGregor told Mashable via email. “But they definitely plan to drill.”

Images courtesy of NASA

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/06/nasa-curiosity-mount-sharp/

What If Huge NASA Mars Rover Crashes Sunday Night?

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If NASA’s newest Mars rover doesn’t touch down safely Sunday night (Aug. 5), the future of Red Planet exploration could be thrown into serious doubt.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover‘s main goal is to determine if Mars can, or ever could, support microbial life. But the huge robot is also carrying the hopes and dreams of NASA’s venerable Mars program on its back to some extent, so a crash Sunday night could be devastating.

“It could take the entire Mars program down with it,” Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, which pushes for human settlement of the Red Planet, told SPACE.com’s Leonard David. “It is victory or death.”

Big funding cuts

President Barack Obama’s 2013 federal budget request, which was released in February, slashes NASA’s planetary science program funding from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion, with further cuts expected in the coming years.

Much of the money will come out of NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program, which has enjoyed a string of successes in the past decade. After landing in January 2004, for example, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity discovered plenty of evidence that Mars was once warmer and wetter than it is today. And the Phoenix lander found subsurface water ice near the planet’s north pole in 2008.

Nevertheless, the White House budget proposal cuts NASA’s Mars funding from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015. [NASA’s 2013 Budget: What Will It Buy?]

As a result, NASA was forced to drop of out the European-led ExoMars mission, which aims to deliver an orbiter and a rover to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018, respectively. And the agency is fundamentally restructuring and downscaling its Mars program, in an attempt to figure out how to make the most out of every precious dollar.

But NASA planetary science officials still hold out hope for a funding comeback, with the help of Curiosity. They think the rover’s discoveries could loosen politicians’ pursestrings and reinvigorate the agency’s robotic exploration efforts.

“What a tremendous opportunity it is for us,” Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, said at a conference in March. “I believe [Curiosity] will open up that new era of discovery that will compel this nation to invest more in planetary science.”

Sticking the landing

So a successful landing on Sunday night is of paramount importance to the space agency, officials have said.

Curiosity‘s touchdown “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration,” Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said last month.

But success is not a given. Landing a robot on another planet is never an easy task, and Curiosity‘s touchdown will perhaps involve more hand-wringing than usual.

Because it’s so heavy, engineers had to devise an entirely new landing method for the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane will lower Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables, then fly off to intentionally crash-land a short distance away. Such a maneuver has never before been tried on another world.

If success over the course of the mission could bring great dividends to NASA’s Mars program, then failure Sunday night could have a chilling effect.

“I think if we are fatal on landing, that will have a very negative influence,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, lead scientist for Curiosity‘s $2.5 billion mission, which is officially called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

“It’s going to force people to look back and ask if it’s possible to achieve these very complex, more demanding missions from a technological perspective,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “How can you talk about sample-return if you can’t do MSL first?”

Keeping the program vital

NASA has one more Mars mission firmly on the books beyond MSL, an atmosphere-studying orbiter called Maven that’s due to launch next year. The agency plans to launch another mission in 2018 or 2020, partly to keep the program vital.

But a Curiosity crash could persuade some talented scientists and engineers that there’s not much of a future at Mars, at least not for a while, researchers say.

“If this thing were to fail, I think a lot of people would trickle away and do other things,” said Ken Edgett, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. Edgett is principal investigator for Curiosity‘s Mars Hand Lens Imager instrument, or MAHLI.

He added that a crash might spark discussions within NASA about shifting resources from Mars to other promising destinations, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, which harbors a liquid-water ocean beneath its icy shell.

“I don’t like that either-or scenario, but I think that’s where we’re headed,” Edgett told SPACE.com in April.

Mars keeps calling us

Edgett stressed, however, that he didn’t think a landing mishap would be the end of the Mars program. Other experts echo that viewpoint, saying that Mars will continue to hold our interest and draw our scientific explorers back.

“It’s one of the most scientifically compelling objects in the solar system — perhaps in terms of ease to get to, the most compelling,” said Scott Hubbard of Stanford University. “And it’s the place, ultimately, for human exploration. So I think Mars exploration will continue.”

Hubbard speaks from experience. He’s the former “Mars Czar” who restructured NASA’s Red Planet program after the agency’s Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter both failed in 1999.

Still, success would definitely be preferable for those who care about Red Planet exploration. A strong showing by Curiosity could lead to bigger things down the road at Mars, Hubbard said.

“There’s a window, I feel, with a successful mission — particularly if it finds evidence of organics — to give the scientific community even more stimulus and ammunition to ask for a re-look at the budget,” Hubbard said.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/04/mars-rover-crash/

Mars Has Tectonic Plates Just Like Earth

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Mars is like Earth in a lot of ways: It snows on the Red Planet, and a full day is a little more than 24 hours. Now, scientists have found yet another similarity. Just like Earth, Mars also has tectonic plates.

For years, scientists suspected these tectonic plates existed on the Red Planet. But UCLA Professor An Lin confirmed it this week after analyzing more than 100 satellite images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. About a dozen of those images contained features Yin had seen before in his studies of Earth’s major plate divides.

“Many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology,” said Yin in a statement.

This week, Curiosity beamed its first high-resolution images of Mars. The Red Planet’s incredible desert-like landscape is eerily similar to that of California or Patagonia. And based on Yin’s research, the Mars rover is sure to find even more similarities during its two-year trip.

Mars has very smooth canyon walls, a feature that only a fault can generate. We can see those same images in California’s Death Valley, where a similar fault is located. Additionally, Mars has a linear volcanic zone, which Yin said is a typical product of plate tectonics.

“You don’t see these features anywhere else on other planets in our solar system, other than Earth and Mars,” Yin said.

These plate tectonics explain the landslides that we already knew occurred on Mars. But could they mean that the planet also suffers from major earthquakes?

“I think so,” Yin said. “I think the fault is probably still active, but not every day. It wakes up every once in a while, over a very long duration — perhaps every million years or more.”

Yin describes Earth as a broken eggshell, with seven major plates. However, Yin has only seen two plates on Mars. While he hasn’t yet seen images of the entire planet, he doesn’t expect that there are any other major plates.

But just how did those tectonic plates form? Yin plans to answer that question in his follow-up round of research, which will appear in the journal Lithosphere.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/11/mars-tectonic-plates/

Astronauts Could Survive Mars Radiation

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Radiation levels at the Martian surface appear to be roughly similar to those experienced by astronauts in low-Earth orbit, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found.

The rover’s initial radiation measurements — the first ever taken on the surface of another planet — may buoy the hopes of human explorers who may one day put boots on Mars, for they add more support to the notion that astronauts can indeed function on the Red Planet for limited stretches of time.

“Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment,” Don Hassler, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told reporters during a news conference today (Nov. 15).

Hassler is principal investigator of Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector instrument, or RAD. RAD aims to characterize the Martian radiation environment, both to help scientists assess the planet’s past and current potential to host life and to aid future manned exploration of the Red Planet.

Since Curiosity landed on Mars in August, RAD has measured radiation levels broadly comparable to those experienced by crewmembers of the International Space Station, Hassler said. Radiation at the Martian surface is about half as high as the levels Curiosity experienced during its nine-month cruise through deep space, he added.

The findings demonstrate that Mars’ atmosphere, though just 1 percent as thick as that of Earth, does provide a significant amount of shielding from dangerous, fast-moving cosmic particles. (Mars lacks a magnetic field, which gives our planet another layer of protection.)

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is getting a bead on the nature of this shielding. RAD has observed that radiation levels rise and fall by 3 to 5 percent over the course of each day, coincident with the daily thickening and thinning of the Martian atmosphere, researchers said.

Hassler stressed that RAD’s findings are preliminary, as Curiosity is just three months into a planned two-year prime mission. He and his team have not yet put hard numbers on the Martian radiation levels, though they plan to do so soon.

“We’re working on that, and we’re hoping to release that at the AGU meeting in December,” Hassler said, referring to the American Geophysical Union’s huge conference in San Francisco, which runs from Dec. 3-7. “Basically, there’s calibrations and characterizations that we’re finalizing to get those numbers precise.”

The real issue for human exploration, he said, is determing how much of a radation dose any future astronauts would accumulate throughout an entire Mars mission — during the cruise to the Red Planet, the time on the surface and the journey home.

“Over time, we’re going to get those numbers,” Hassler said.

One key to understanding the big picture will be documenting the effects of big solar storms, which can blast huge clouds of charged particles into space. Curiosity flew through one such cloud on its way to Mars but has yet to experience one on the surface, Hassler said.

RAD is just one of Curiosity’s 10 different science instruments, which it’s using to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. During today’s press conference, researchers also detailed some initial findings about the Martian atmosphere, including interesting wind patterns and details about daily changes in atmospheric density.

“If we can find out more about the weather and climate on present-day Mars, then that really helps us to improve our understanding of Mars’ atmospheric processes,” said Claire Newman of Ashima Research in Pasadena, Calif., a collaborator for Curiosity’s Rover Environmental Monitoring Station instrument. “That gives us much more confidence when we try to predict things like what Mars may have looked like in the past.”

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/15/astronauts-mars-radiation/